Rot Rules: Planning a natural outdoor Classroom or play yard

Rot Rules: Planning a natural outdoor Classroom or play yard

Recently a childcare centre in BC was lamenting to us that the stumps and logs that a landscaper had incorporated into their outdoor learning area 2 years ago were disintegrating.  They were now ordering some of the Outlast outdoor furnishings by Community Playthings from us.

The local highly humid conditions sped up a process that is inevitable anywhere: rotting. Wood is natural, organic material and organic material will breakdown and return to the soil – it’s a question of when not if. 

Using unfinished wood in an outdoor learning area can deliver many and rich learning opportunities for the children -- as well as the adults planning the outdoor space -- about the power of rot.

[Download our new Outdoor Wood, Trikes, Toys Care Guide for a comparison of Outlast, Thermory and Cedar Wood, plus some tips for extending the life of trikes, too. Click here for  Louise Kool's Outdooor Classroom Planning Guide for child care, daycare and early years classrooms.]


Learning from Rotting

The popular trend of landscaping with raw unfinished lumber shaped the outdoor learning areas of that centre in BC.  Creating a naturalized look  is a refreshing alternative to steel, rubber, and plastic play grounds. 


Naturalized wood poles in an outdoor play yard


But if your seating, writing surfaces, mud kitchens etc. is made of untreated wood it may not be able to support humans of any size sooner than you think:  while providing a bounty for a vast community of little creatures!

Logs, stumps and discs will create environments for a variety of living things –  worms, rolly pollies, wood lice, fungi and plants – because they rot, creating nutrients.   

This inevitable process creates great learning opportunities -- turn over a stump or wood disc and you’ll see a fascinating ecosystem, fed by the wood breaking down.

underside of raw wood disc or log with insects


Woods that resist rot: Cedar, Teak, Eucalyptus

Some woods like teak, eucalyptus and cedar are not treated but are naturally resistant to rot.  However, at LKG we now only carry cedar for untreated outdoor wood furniture.  As cedar is grown in Canada and the US it is naturally resistant to our climate. 

 Cedar outdoor classroom furniture for daycare child care by louise kool


Teak and eucalyptus are both from the tropics.  And although they are used to high humidity and will resist rot – they dry out in our climate. 

Exposure to direct sun, and the swings of temperature of Canadian seasons -- with 10-15 degrees being common -- is tough on woods acclimatized to consistent temperature and humidity.  The freezing and thawing of winter months, extracts moisture deep from the wood causing cracking, splintering and breakdown.

Also, because most of our cedar comes from Canada, it is a far more sustainable resource and friendlier to the environment than tropical woods.

Treated woods

Outlast outdoor blocks for outdoor learning at louise kool


Both Acetylated wood of Outlast (shown above) and the Thermory wood of the Nature to Play lines of furniture have been treated. But unlike treatments of the past that used harsh chemicals with byproducts like cyanide, for Outlast the only by product is vinegar and water and for Thermory wood, steam is what achieves preservation.

Sand and mud play is also hard on wood. Grit in sand and mud will wear down a surface. A metal spoon, rocks pepples can dent and chip woods particularly if they're dehydrated, creating a pathway for splitting and rot.

Outlast goes even further to guard against rot and splintering by using rubber to protect the ends of boards and corners from moisture.  These are natural points of weakness in all cut wood.  


Weathered outlast dual sand and water table in day care centre

This well-use Outlast Double Water Table, has taken on a grey patina over time and use, but it still has not chipped, split, warped or rotted.  The original colour can be restored through re-applying a recommended wood stain. 


Because of the rubber ends, expert manufacturing – (all Outlast furniture is shipped fully assembled) stainless steel hardware reinforcing acetylated wood, we can back Outlast outdoor furniture with a lifetime warranty.  

See the durability for yourself.  Checkoout the video below of an Outlast Table sunk in a pond for 6 months!



Naturalize your space – preserve your classroom

So when planning your outdoor space, absolutely plan on naturalizing your environment with wood -- logs, stumps, branches, discs – they offer a wealth of learning opportunities.  Just don’t count on untreated wood as the primary furnishings for an outdoor classroom.  As you would with an indoor learning space furnish with tables, benches, mud kitchens, that are purpose built for early years education and for the elements. 

PS:  Looking for more inspiration, tips and tricks, furnishing ideas for your outdoor early learning area?  Check out our free Outdooor Classroom Planning Guide.

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